The Spring Classics & France travel blog

Riding into the mist out of Maastricht.

Waiting to cross at the lights in Maastricht.

Our first Dutch windmill on the road out of Maastricht.

Bananas are a cyclists best friend. Not sure about the monkey.

Lois cresting the Cauberg for the first time.

The finish line at the top of the Cauberg.

An unusual cave home in Valkenberg. I couldn't read the description.

Cresting the Cauberg for the second time.

The three amigos arrive outside the hotel in Valkenberg.

There was a crooked house.....

An observation tower at Vaalserberg, the highest point in Holland.

There were many such crosses mostly at intersections. Some small some very...

Spring is changing the look of the forest.

I have no idea what this goat is all about .

They really prune the trees in this country.

An exhibition devoted to the Amstel Gold Race.

Our hotel in Valkenberg. Our room is the attic on the right.

Day 10

Today we will ride two stages of the Amstel Gold Race which takes place within this small section of Holland bordered on three sides by Belgium and Germany. The race is named after a brand of beer sold in Holland. Due to the small size of the region the route of the race crosses and re-crosses the same hilly region. There are many short, sharp climbs which have maximum gradients exceeding 12% and up to 20%.. The first 74km leg took us from Maastricht to Valkenburg and it was relatively flat until we reached Valkenburge where we had to climb the famous Cauberg. At this point we changed our Garmins to the second leg which, strangely, took us back to Maastricht, right past our hotel of the previous night, and then back around in a big 76km loop that included 11 climbs. The route was really interesting with lots of villages and small towns, winding roads and steep uphills with equally steep downhills.

There were lots of cyclists around as it was Saturday and this is a very popular area for training cyclists and cycling club rides. We saw many a peloton of riders in matching club kit riding towards and past us. The weather today was overcast and cool to start with so I rode with 3 layers of clothing, one windproof, and still felt cold. Around about 11:30 the sun finally 'burned' away the clouds and the temperature briefly climbed to 16C before dropping back to 14C with the strengthening breeze.

The routes of the various rides criss-cross the whole region. Funnily enough we also saw Dutch riders in 'civvies' on their sit up bikes riding those same hills as if they were not hard. On closer inspection many of their bikes had suspiciously large rear hubs and what were clearly batteries attached to down tubes or carriers. However, not all these were e-bikes and I was amazed at the nonchalant way in which some cyclists in every day street cloths just rode up and down such steep roads. Finally after 147km and about 1800m of climbing we arrived for the second time in Valkenburg and made our way to a nice hotel in the middle of town. There were a large number of guests and friends who had been invited by the Bike Dreams team so we had more than 30 to dinner. I found the riding quite challenging and spent most of my time with Ian, Paul and Lois at the back of our group. I can't keep up with the fast riders so it is pleasant to just roll along with friends. Every now and then Paul and Ian, who are stronger than Lois and I, would zip off ahead and then wait for us to catch up.

Day 11

Yesterday we actually rode loops 1 and 3 of the Amstel race because loop 2 is 108km and that would have made for too long a day if combined with loop 1. So today we rode loop 2 which includes 14 climbs, 4 of which we had done already as part of loop 1 or loop 3. Yes I know it is complicated - it's only due to the fact that the routes are extensively signposted and that we had the courses loaded on our Garmins that we were able to navigate our way about. The route was very undulating, don't let anyone tell you that Holland is ALL flat. This part of Holland is definitely NOT flat. Once again the Sunday riders were out in force as were the Sunday walkers. There were groups of walkers everywhere despite the cool and overcast weather.

The temperature started at about 4C and rose slowly to 12C at about 2:00pm. Unfortunately the wind strengthened at this time and we didn't get any warmer. There was a brief spell of sunshine at lunchtime but it didn't last. Halfway through the journey we reached Vaalserberg which is the highest point in continental Holland at 323m. There are a couple of observation towers at this point to give people a panoramic view. In addition, not far away is the Three Country Point which marks the corner of the three borders between Belgium, Holland and Germany. One unusual thing I noticed about the local cycling groups was that some of them travel with their own support cars carrying spare wheels. These were not racing teams of lithe young men but MAMILS (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) often with a woman or two in their group. There were also a number of male/female couples riding past, moving well as a team.

Most of the day I didn't feel as strong as yesterday so when the opportunity arose to take a short cut and avoid a couple of the steeper hills which we had already climber the previous day I chose the easy way. After all, I had done the climbs before. I arrived in the hotel in time to watch the final half hour of so of the Paris to Roubaix bike race and was delighted for the Dutch to see Niki Terpstra win this cobbled classic. No doubt there will be much celebration tonight. With today's shortcuts I rode just over 100km today and climbed a further 1300m. We will have a smaller group to dinner tonight before a short ride to Liege tomorrow.

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